Sunday, June 17, 2007

Science versus science fiction

Remember a long time ago, we said: science is about answering the answerable, not imagining the imaginable.

Much of the global warming literature is the latter, not the former. The executive summaries of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) are a good example. They use the trappings of science without the substance and, each time they're released, show wide differences from the larger scientific reports that accompany them but which few non-scientists ever look at. These differences are a major scandal. That is, they violate all the basic canons of scientific honesty, twisting and mutilating the science until it fits the political preconceptions. And the IPCC has become ever more clever and manipulative in how they're pushed out to the public. The latest report (No. 4, 2007) separated the release of the scientific report from the summary by several months. Naturally, the summary material is all you ever hear in the media.

Hysterical literature of this type typically mixes the imaginable, the hypothetical, and the unlikely with the probable, the banal, and the obvious. A good example is the attempt in the IPCC's summary of impacts of global warming to simultaneously inflate probable changes in the polar regions and conflate those with unlikely major changes near the equator - all in an attempt, I suppose, to stir our sympathy simultaneously for stranded polar bears and the typically impoverished humans living in the tropics. As a previous posting explained, the polar bears have the better case here, although the absolute size of the changes in question is unlikely to be large.

A better way to think of these reports is that the members of the IPCC are trying to break into The Industry, as it's called, and the reports are preliminary drafts for a Hollywood blockbuster, The Warming After: The Movie. It'll star Angelina Jolie (she of the luscious lips and furrowed brows) as an NGO/humanitarian aid worker living in the tropics and trapped in 14 hurricanes, one after another - all late one summer. Alec Baldwin co-stars as an amorous and distinguished professor of climatology who splits his time between seducing graduate students and testifying on impending climate doom before Congress, where he's repeatedly confronted by a hostile Republican senator and global warming skeptic. Al Gore makes a cameo appearance as himself, brandishing a hockey stick and riding that platform contraption from Inconvenient Truth.

The story climaxes dramatically when Baldwin rescues the secretly-environmentalist daughter (Scarlett Johansson) of the hostile senator from her father's house as it slides into the ocean during a mudslide, taking the senator with it. They live happily ever after (in a very convenient ménage-à-trois) in a beautiful but ruined tropical villa that Jolie has discovered, where they curl up together every night to learn about thermodynamics and the evils of carbon dioxide and feed displaced polar bears. No farting allowed.

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